Review: Hook's Revenge by Heidi Schulz

Hands down one of the best things about being a debut author is the friendship of other debut authors. Like terrified, ego-filled puppies, we stick together, watch each other, and generally make an interesting bunch (and yes, sometimes, a bit of a mess).

There's also quite a lot of books going back and forth.

A few months ago I reviewed Kat Ellis' BLACKFIN SKY. Now, I've had another chance to take a sneak-peek at an upcoming book - HOOK'S REVENGE by Heidi Schulz. Jealous? You totally should be.

First, a bit about Cap'n Heidi:

Heidi Schulz is a writer, reader, and giraffe suspicioner. She lives in Salem, Oregon with her husband, co-captaining a crew made of their teen daughter, a terrible little dog, and five irascible chickens. Her debut novel for middle grade readers, HOOK’S REVENGE, will be published by Disney•Hyperion on September 16, 2014. A sequel, HOOK’S REVENGE: THE PIRATE CODE, will follow in fall 2015. Bloomsbury Kids will publish her picture book debut, GIRAFFES RUIN EVERYTHING, in 2016.

And a bit about the book:

Twelve-year-old Jocelyn dreams of becoming every bit as daring as her infamous father, Captain James Hook. Her grandfather, on the other hand, intends to see her starched and pressed into a fine society lady. When she’s sent to Miss Eliza Crumb-Biddlecomb’s Finishing School for Young Ladies, Jocelyn’s hopes of following in her father’s fearsome footsteps are lost in a heap of dance lessons, white gloves, and way too much pink.

So when Jocelyn receives a letter from her father challenging her to avenge his untimely demise at the jaws of the Neverland crocodile, she doesn’t hesitate-here at last is the adventure she has been waiting for. But Jocelyn finds that being a pirate is a bit more difficult than she’d bargained for. As if attempting to defeat the Neverland’s most fearsome beast isn’t enough to deal with, she’s tasked with captaining a crew of woefully untrained pirates, outwitting cannibals wild for English cuisine, and rescuing her best friend from a certain pack of lost children, not to mention that pesky Peter Pan who keeps barging in uninvited.

Now for the interesting stuff - my review.

I got this book in the post last week. I have now finished this book and convinced two other people to read it. That should tell you a lot. It's a brilliant read - fast-paced, unpredictable, witty, and even a little moving (not that this sea-hardened rogue would ever admit to such emotions). Jocelyn's journey from bored ward to stifled student to - of course - adventuring pirate is wonderfully handled. I felt her pain at being cooped up, at feeling like Greater Things were going on without her, and I felt the relief when she finally managed to escape and chase her fortune. That's an important point to make, by the way - Jocelyn escapes, and is not rescued. She's strong, well rounded, and clever. She does what she needs to, fights for what she believes in, and spends the entire book demonstrating perfectly well that the best young women have no need for flying boys when they're already planning their next escapade. Heidi's writing is just right for this tale and I genuinely felt the itch to grab a sword, head for open water, and see what I could make of my life.

There's two things I want to especially praise about this book. The first is the narrator, and the second is the many minor characters that pepper the pages.

The narrator - a sarcastic, impatient, somewhat dark-humoured fellow who seems to know a bit too much about poison, daggers, and the best way to dispose of a body - has no time for children, no time for cats, and serves as a brilliant storyteller. I loved the voice Heidi's created, and the sense that you're sitting in a richly furnished room (perhaps with several questionable objects displayed. That gun above the fireplace couldn't really be loaded, could it? Could it? And that's not real blood on the map. That would be silly, right?) listening to a crotchety, but very clever, uncle. It drew me in and kept me laughing. For children, it's a great way to keep them gripped and never condescend. There's definitely a couple of jokes for the more grown-up readers among us, too.

The several minor characters that Jocelyn comes across - Miss Eliza, the king of the Karnapine people, and even the Neverland mermaids - are just as believable and well-written as Jocelyn. They're irritating, honest, sympathetic, and useful. Children's books can sometimes be bloated with extraneous characters, and it might have been tempting to do so when the whole of Neverland was at her disposal, but Heidi's created an entire world that's unique and alive. Heck, Neverland actually is alive in this book, and the few hints we get about its moods, its nature, and its sense of adventure, leave me wanting more. There's already a sequel planned, and I for one cannot wait.

Finally, Heidi's take on Peter Pan - and the fact he's mostly not in this story - was just right. Jocelyn has a quest, and it's a good, old fashioned Quest with a capital Q. She has to avenge her father's death, but she also has to learn about him, to find a link to the distant man she dreamed of, but one that might not be quite so perfect as she'd hoped. There's honesty in this book - about parents and their flaws, love and its limitations, and wishes and quite how tricky they can be. It's surprisingly mature, but then some of the best stories are, I suppose.

You can probably tell I liked this book.

Sadly for you, it's not out till September 14, 2014. For now, why not add Heidi on Twitter, and add HOOK'S REVENGE on Goodreads. You can also visit Heidi's rather snazzy website at http://heidischulzbooks.com/

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some treasure to steal polish.

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